Look, I like life-changing reads as much as the next guy. It makes me feel good that I've consumed a book that actually means something important after I've put it down. Stories that examine the nature of life or some aspect of our humanity are mentally and emotionally satisfying. It's like eating a good steak. And who doesn't like a good steak?
You know what else is satisfying? Cheeseburgers. And so is their literary equivalent. They are often called "popcorn" books (I'm starting to get a little hungry here...) because, like any engrossing blockbuster film, you just sit there eating up the popcorn that accompanies it. In short, popcorn books are ones whose main goal is to entertain you. Just like there are many kinds of popcorn films, there are many kinds of popcorn books. This week, I'd like to focus on some fairly recent books that revolve around Kaiju.
Kaiju is a Japanese word that translates literally to "strange beast," often as simply "monster" (and usually meaning giant monsters), and has a long history in cinema. Godzilla is a well-known film monster that encapsulates the idea of Kaiju. Last year's summer blockbuster Pacific Rim is another. Nobody goes into a Godzilla or Pacific Rim film expecting to learn the true meaning of life. They're there to be entertained, and they are.
The same could be said for Kaiju books which, riding on the success of films like Godzilla or Pacific Rim, seem to be sprouting up more and more. For readers who enjoy a little popcorn with their steak, here's a rundown of some recent Kaiju books. All of them have one simple truth in common: they're fun!
Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters edited by Tim Marquitz and Nickolas Sharps
As a longtime reader and lover of short fiction, I feel compelled to suggest once again that one of the best ways to sample something is to consume lots of it in small doses. For those with bookish interests, that means consuming lots of short stories. Readers thus get a feel not only for what a subgenre has to offer, but also get a sample of many writers who produce it. To that end, an anthology—a collection of short fiction written by multiple authors that usually involve a common theme—is a great way to start you down the road to Kaiju.
A fantastic Kaiju anthology is Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters edited by Tim Marquitz and Nickolas Sharps, an anthology that was born on Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website. But don't let that uncommon genesis fool you; Kaiju Rising includes some of the top talent in the speculative fiction field. Inside these pages you'll find stories by David Annandale, Natania Barron, Peter Clines, Larry Correia, Jaym Gates, Erin Hoffman, Howard Andrew Jones, Gini Koch (writing as J.C. Koch), Timothy W. Long, James Lovegrove, James Maxey, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, James Swallow, C.L. Werner, and more...telling stories that span history, with monsters of vastly different origins, dealing with themes as varied as religion and Hollywood movie deals. You'll be surprised at the range of diversity in stories that are seeded in the deceptively simple concept of Kaiju.
The Kaiju Apocalypse Series by Eric. S Brown and Jason Cordova
The Kaiju Apocalypse Series is a series of shorter works that pit man against monster with the deadliest risk of all: extinction. The story opens in the future, long after the first appearance of the Kaiju have emerged from the rising sea and wiped out most of humanity. In fact, all that remains of humanity is confined within two large, dome-covered cities to help protect them from further attacks. The predominant monsters as the story opens (in Kaiju Apocalypse) are the smaller Kaiju called "Dog Kaiju," which humans (called "Dogkillers") fight with powered armor. The Dog Kaiju serve as foot-soldiers to the larger Kaiju that loom in the background.
In the early days of the Kaiju war, mankind launched a colony ship named the Argo to preserve the race. In Kaiju Apocalypse II, the Argo returns to Earth years after failing to find a new home for humans. Will they find any humans that are still alive? Given that there's a Kaiju Apocalypse III, it's a safe bet they do. In this new sequel, one scientist has a plan to end the Kaiju once and for all, but it comes at a very high cost.
Project Nemesis and Project Maigo by Jeremy Robinson
Jeremy Robinson's two-book (so far) Kaiju thriller sequence begins with Project Nemesis, which features as its main protagonist Jon Hudson, lead investigator for the Department of Homeland Security's Fusion Center-P, an organization tasked with handling paranormal threats to national security. A year of fake Sasquatch sightings have Hudson thinking his job is a joke, until one of those sightings leads to an abandoned missile site where Hudson, now teamed up with local sheriff Ashley Collins, ends up on the run from a ruthless ex-Special Forces security team. But the real threat looming here is the 300-foot tall monster known as Nemesis, the product of a disastrous experiment-gone-wrong that gets accidentally released into the world. Nemesis destroys the missile site and heads for Boston, leaving a trail of clues that lead Hudson to corporate secrets and a murdered little girl.
The follow-up book in the series, Project Maigo, sees Hudson and his team haunted by the destruction caused by Nemesis, who retreated into the ocean depths. While they prepare for its return, they are not prepared for what emerges: five new Kaiju aimed at the world's cities around the globe. These are not random attacks, though. The Kaiju are being controlled by one psychopath who, along with his Kaiju, storm toward Washington, D.C., where Hudson hopes he can stop the devastation.
World War Kaiju by Josh Finney, illustrated by Patrick McEvoy
Alternate History is a staple of speculative fiction, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that there is an alternate history Kaiju story. Josh Finney's World War Kaiju imagines a world in which the atomic bomb was never created and the ultimate weapon of mass destruction is the Kaiju. These Kaiju are 50-foot tall radioactive beasts spawned from the mysterious KAI-235 isotope. Now, 25 years after World War II, every nation has its own arsenal of monsters.
World War Kaiju is a love letter to the golden-age of Kaiju cinema. Creatively illustrated by Patrick McEvoy, this beautiful graphic novel seeks to be something different. Readers follow the amazing journey of one journalist as he teams up with a retired CIA operative to uncover the truth about the conspiracy behind the monsters. Check out the book’s website for samples and a trailer.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, the Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal. John's response to anyone who didn't like Pacific Rim: "What part of 'Robots vs. Monsters' do you not get?"